With Santa Barbara County now in the Red Tier, in-person visits are again allowed at the Comprehensive Care Center, with some restrictions.
For 13 months, Comprehensive Care Center residents have not been able to sit next to a loved one, hold hands with a spouse or child, give a hug to or have intimate conversations with family members because of the pandemic.
That changed this week with the return of in-person visits at the skilled nursing facility. With Santa Barbara County classified in the COVID-19 Red Tier, visitors are allowed back into the facility, with certain vaccine-status restrictions.
George Sartori has been faithfully conducting window visits with 85-year-old Raymond Mantovani, whom he considers his brother. George has cared for the older man, who is autistic, for about four decades. When restrictions eased a bit a few months ago, he could have short visits between plexiglass. On Tuesday this week, he put on a mask and shield and marched inside to see Ray. Both men have been vaccinated.
I’m ecstatic,” George said. “I’m thrilled to really hug him.”
During his visit, George couldn’t stop holding Ray’s hand or rubbing his shoulder, or at one point, pinching his cheek. All the while, Ray smiled and laughed. The two are not related by genetics, but their deep love for one another is evident. They joke and laugh as if there were brothers by blood.
“I’ve been able to touch him and hug him,” said George on Tuesday, noting that last week Ray had a significant health setback that left everyone fearful he’d pass away.
“He’s the Rock of Gibraltar,” laughed George. “One day, the doctor said we’re going to put him in hospice. He was fine the next day. It was just like a miracle.”
As he held Ray’s hand, he added, “I am delighted to touch him and hug him and that he’s back to normal.”
Ray agreed: “It feels good.”
The lack of in-person visits has been challenging for everybody, said CCC Activities Director Michele Hunt.
“Our residents have been so well-loved and cared for – not that we can take the place of their family. These (in-person) visits are what helps them blossom and bloom, emotionally and socially. We are their family, but this is their blood.”
Before the pandemic, George was visiting three times daily, at mealtimes. It was scaled back to twice daily with the COVID restrictions. Now, they are even planning a luncheon adventure away from the facility.
As soon as visitation was allowed Tuesday, Juana Duran went to the CCC to visit her partner of 13 years, Julian Martinez Salas. Julian had a difficult bout with COVID and was intubated three times. Eight members of their combined family suffered from COVID, though Juana had no bad symptoms. She has not been able to touch Julian since January. On Tuesday, dressed in full protective gear, she sat and lovingly rubbed his feet. Through a translator, she said how traumatizing it was to see her entire family so ill. She was scared, she said, because she saw how many people were dying from COVID-19 on the news.
Juana said she was “very happy” to be able to visit Julian.
Julian, she said, was “unable to do anything” because of the sickness. “He was strong, and now he can barely move.”
“I have many emotions,” she said through a translator. “I’m waiting for him to come back so I can help him at home.”
Visitors may return to the CCC with a number of restrictions in place. Every visitor will be screened for illness as well as vaccination status. Other restrictions are as follows:
- Visitors may engage in a brief hug, hand-holding, or assisting with feeding if both visitor and family member have been vaccinated and are wearing PPE.
- If resident is in the green zone, a mask and shield are worn by the visitor, and the resident wears a mask.
- If resident is in the yellow zone (quarantine or isolation precautions), both visitor and resident will be required to wear full PPE (face shield for visitor only, mask, and gown).
- If resident has a roommate, visitor should speak to the staff to have residents brought to a dining room for a visit.
- If either visitor or resident has not been vaccinated, visits must remain socially distant and without physical contact. Both people must wear appropriate PPE. CCC staff will advise visitors about the level of PPE needed based on the resident's status.
“We are also asking that families limit the number of visitors so that appropriate social distancing can be achieved,” said Administrator Lorraine Jones.“Staggering of family members is advised if there is a large family.”
To ensure continued safety at the CCC, its staff must undergo:
- Weekly COVID swabbing for all staff, as well as visiting nurses, hospice care staff, and companion care staff
- Staff must wear face masks at all times while in common areas and with residents
- Staff must wear face shields at all times when in close contact with residents
- Staff must wear full PPE when working with residents in the yellow or red zones
If the county infection rate spikes again or the facility has a virus outbreak, visitation will be temporarily restricted.
“We look forward to seeing our families reunited and ask that during this transition, you please be patient as we navigate this new process,” Jones said.